12 Tool Myths You’ve Believed for Way Too Long
Tool use is ancient, and considered by many to be the defining aspect of the human race. Is it any surprise, then, that over the millennia we've let a whole forest of myths and misconceptions grow up about tools and the best way to use them? Unfortunately, these tool myths keep you from making the best use of your tool collections, and end up slowing down projects and bloating your budgets.
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The More Volts the Better
Walk through any big box store and you’ll see stacks of power tools on display, most of which prominently showcase the voltage capabilities of their battery packs. This is because more volts are better, right?
Not so fast! In fact, the motor, chuck, gearing and other components that produce the power have as much or more of an impact on a given power tool’s performance. Those large 18v or 20v stickers are more about brand identification than actual performance.
Air Tools vs. Power Tools
If you want to start an argument, just get a couple DIYers talking about whether they prefer pneumatic or electric power tools. You can hear all kinds of reasons why one type of power tool is better than the other, and almost all of them boil down to personal preference. Pneumatic tools (also known as air tools) tend to be lighter, as well as more affordable. But they need to be hooked to an air compressor to function. If you have several air tools going at once, you’ll need a correspondingly larger compressor. As a result, pneumatic tools tend to be favored by DIY auto mechanics, or those who have a single shop where they do their work, while electrical versions are more popular with DIYers who work at multiple locations or move up and down ladders.
Buy the type of tool that fits your style of work, rather than worrying about tool myths and what’s “right” or “wrong.”
Women Need Special Tools
There is a portion of the population who for some reason continue to believe that women either can’t use tools or can only use tools that are in some way modified for them. The truth of the matter is that a quality tool, hand or powered, should be designed to be used by anyone. And while some tasks are simple for certain body types, no amount of size or strength is appropriate for all tasks equally. For example, a man who’s 6’5″ and 325 lbs of muscle is going to have an easier time busting up a rock with a spud bar, that same guy is going to have a much harder time hanging insulation in a crawlspace than someone with tinier hands and shorter stature.
So if you’re looking for a gift for the female DIYer in your life, search out a quality tool that fits her needs, rather than worrying about the color of the hand-grips.
Loyalty is a great trait, and one that the DIY community has in spades. But sometimes proclaiming your loyalty to a specific brand feels more like proclaiming loyalty to a sports team.
Just one example: For years, some people might swear that Black & Decker tools are garbage, and only buy DeWalt tools. Or they might turn up their nose at DeWalt and swear by Porter Cable. But in fact, Porter Cable and DeWalt are both owned by — you guessed it! — Black & Decker. There’s a good chance that tools with all three of those brands on them were made in the same factory. Does that guarantee that they’re all the same quality? No, but it does mean that each tool should be assessed on its own merits, not on the basis of its name-plate.
Power Tool Batteries Have Memory Issues
No, your drill won’t forget where it left its car keys. The memory issues that people still talk about date back a decade or more when cell phone batteries began to show shortened lifespan due to recharging at the same time each day. In theory, some power tool batteries could develop this kind of memory issue today, but only if you consistently drain it down to the exact same level each time, and then recharge them. The nature of power tools means that this happens extremely rarely, if ever.
That’s not to say that batteries last forever. You can work to extend the life of your batteries by practicing a few simple tricks. And while newer cordless power tool batteries have smart boards to help manage their lifespan, they eventually do wear out. When that happens, you can opt to attempt to rebuild them, or recycle and buy new.
Frozen Paint is Ruined Forever
Paint stored outside is prone to extreme temperatures. Depending on where you live, it might suffer through raging heat or freezing cold, or go from one extreme to the other! Many DIY painters have been told that paint is immediately ruined if it ever freezes. But that’s not necessarily true.
If you’ve ever stored paint cans outside in cold weather and you’ve just had that horrible moment when you walk outside, see snow on the ground, and wonder if you’ve got a garage full of wasted paint, just follow the steps in this article to determine just how bad the damage really is.
Older Tools are Better
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. If you’ve ever been handed down an antique power or hand tool, you may be amazed at the quality of the craftsmanship, and the amount of steel casing, rather than plastic, that forms its shell. And as heirlooms, these tools are amazing. But that doesn’t mean they represent the typical tool of their day.
Maybe you’ve got great memories about a parent or grandparent using that tool. But the simple fact that it survived to get to you means that it’s likely a nicer tool than most of its peers. Just as only the most durable or least used of today’s tools will be around in 30 years, that doesn’t mean that all modern tools are great quality.
And if you’ve ever started to use those old power tools, you’ll quickly realize that they have their own drawbacks. Those all-steel casings, for instance? They’re unbelievably heavy, and if you leave them to sit out in the sun, they get extremely hot, extremely quickly. Lug a hot heavy retro drill up and down a ladder on a hot afternoon, and all of a sudden those plastic bodies on new tools make a lot more sense.
So maybe you love working with old tools, or maybe you just want to make novelty coat hooks out of them. Either way, they can still be a source of fun and nostalgia, without necessarily being built better than their modern descendants.
Newer Tools are Better
Just as some people see only the positives in vintage tools, others only want the absolute newest product. It’s true that tool technology continues to improve. From the balance and face waffling on a framing hammer to the battery life and light weight of cordless power tools, manufacturers are making better and better tools all the time. But just because something is newer and better, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Tool myths busted!
Before running to the big box store to lay out your credit card, look at your damaged or worn tools, and see whether you can make repairing them a project in itself. Family Handyman is a great resource for this, whether you’re repairing a framing nailer, a chainsaw, a ratchet or something else entirely.
Of course, if you do need to buy new, the good news is that when adjusted for inflation, today’s best tools are cheaper than they’ve ever been. Whether you’re rebuilding or buying new, this is a great time to be involved in DIY.
‘I always use my protective gear’
Unfortunately, this is a myth we too often tell ourselves. It seems like you wear your safety gear all the time, right? And we’ve all seen what can happen if this step is skipped, either first-hand or in photos or video. But for some reason, sometimes it just seems like such a hassle to go track down those safety glasses or gloves.
Bust this myth by admitting that you’re human, and don’t always do things the right way. And once you’ve admitted that there’s a problem, take some steps to correct the situation. Buy several pair of cheap safety glasses, so that you’ve always got a pair nearby. Or go the other direction, and invest in quality work wear that’s safe and comfortable, so that it doesn’t feel like a burden to gear up.
No matter how you decide to address this shortcoming, find a way to incorporate safety into your work routine. You, and all your fingers and eyes, will be glad you did.
The Wet Bandanna Solution to Fiberglass
This is a strange job site myth that just won’t go away. The idea that a water-soaked bandanna makes an adequate dust mask while installing fiberglass insulation still rears its head from time to time, mostly among workers who don’t have much fiberglass insulation experience.
Fiberglass can be very irritating, but it’s not that difficult to minimize your exposure to fibers, as long as you take the proper steps. Use safety goggles, not just glasses, light gloves and a dust mask rated for fiberglass insulation (N-95). Long sleeves are ideal, and put petroleum jelly on any exposed skin, such as between the end of your sleeves and the beginning of the gloves.
A wet bandanna is great to drape over your neck, especially if working in an attic space, but it won’t do nearly enough to keep those fibers out of your lungs. Lastly, keep a lint roller on hand, and use it to pull all the fibers off of your clothes before jumping in your truck or changing clothes. That way they won’t fall back on you or get picked up by your clean clothes.
Wood Putty Can’t Be Saved
Coming to the final steps in a project and finding my jar of putty as dry as the Serengeti and hard as a rock is frustrating. But it isn’t the end of that putty. The solution to dry putty is to remove the putty with a screwdriver and knead it with canola oil until it’s a usable consistency. The putty isn’t quite as good as new, but it works in a pinch. It’s a messy job, so wear latex gloves. Click here to learn a trick to keeping wood putty fresh.
Getting Paint in Carpet is a Disaster
I used to think dropping a loaded paintbrush on the carpet meant replacing the carpet, until a former foreman told me this little tip. Pour some denatured alcohol onto a rag and scrub away the paint. Use a rag that is as close in color to the carpet, as the alcohol can transfer some of the rag’s color to the carpet.
Need some denatured alcohol? Buy it from Amazon here